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Ask an Expert: Encouraging teachers to take more risks.

EdNews Parent expert and doctoral candidate Bethy Leonardi responds to a question from Dean in Boulder:

Q. Given CSAPs and curriculum structure, how can we as parents encourage or support teacher’s natural creativity and or risk taking with the subject matter. For I really feel that a great teacher should be given free reign to be great. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

A. I’m going to answer this question as if you were a parent in my classroom – and not so much as an overall blanket statement that suggests how to support all teachers. With this in mind, I think the first way to support any teacher is to develop a level of communication consistent with your inquiry. In other words, I’d ask the teacher how best you could support her efforts to be “great.”

This, I believe, is the most powerful way to “help” – as teachers’ needs vary in each situation and could be quite diverse in each school. Parent involvement can be a real blessing. Yet, at the same time, it can serve to create more work for a teacher – if there is no communication. This attempt to connect, based on the teacher’s needs, according to her, will let her know that your attempts are sincere, and not a way to undermine her efforts. (This might not be so important if teaching was not an historically under-respected career.)

That being said, I’m always up for supportive parents and do take full advantage of their willingness to support great education. One way that I’ve welcomed involvement, a way that has allowed for creativity, is through parents bringing in their own expertise. Accessing community knowledge and resources serves a number of purposes, all of which create a more dynamic educational experience – not only for the students – and not only in regards to academics. This is an excellent way to tap into a classroom’s “funds of knowledge” (Luis Moll) or into the knowledge students gain from their family and cultural backgrounds in an effort to make their classrooms more inclusive. Overall, this type of interaction creates an environment that allows for more creativity and risk because it feeds on this notion of community. It also invites parent involvement that is more authentic; they are part of the community. (And it’s free!)

On a more systemic level, in the effort to support teachers, we might want to think less about what we can do for teachers and more about what we can do to demand change, so that test scores and “accountability” don’t ruin what could be a “great” education.

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